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Conservation Groups, DU Law Clinic Rally for Wolves in Colorado

[large thumbnail url=”conservation-groups-du-law-clinic-rally-for-wolves-in-colorado” filename=”news” year=”2010″ month=”11″ day=”15″] [thumbnail icon url=”conservation-groups-du-law-clinic-rally-for-wolves-in-colorado” filename=”news” year=”2010″ month=”11″ day=”15″] Denver— Giving the public only 12 hours notice, Rocky Mountain National Park will again host sharpshooters to cull the Park’s burgeoning elk population this winter rather than reintroducing wolves, which would permanently resolve the Park’s elk problems. Over the summer, Park officials erected fences around dwindling aspen groves to stem elk overbrowsing. The population, beyond what is sustainable for the system, causes numerous problems that cascade through the ecosystem.

Conservation groups and the University of Denver (DU) Sturm College of Law Environmental Law Clinic will hold a rally to welcome back wolves to Colorado on Wednesday, Nov. 17th at 6:30pm at the law school’s main forum, 2255 East Evans Avenue, Denver. Law professor Michael Harris, who directs the Environmental Law Clinic at DU, will discuss the ongoing Rocky Mountain Park wolf litigation, and there will be two live “ambassador” wolves at the event.

“Devoid of its wolves, Rocky Mountain National Park’s elk are sedentary creatures that snack all day, and that uninterrupted feasting leads to ecosystem collapse. The expedient remedy is the most elegant: Return the wolf and restore the balance,” said Wendy Keefover-Ring of WildEarth Guardians. “Merely culling elk does not do the trick. Elk need to be continually wary and on the move to prevent overbrowsing.”

Represented by DU, WildEarth Guardians challenged the plan by Park officials that failed to seriously consider wolf reintroduction as a means of addressing the Park’s vegetation problems.

“Rocky Mountain National Park and the surrounding public lands could provide over 2.2 million acres of wolf habitat. While the Park hosts wolves’ favorite prey, elk, in overabundance, their iconic predator, the wolf, is sadly absent,” Harris said.

Biological studies show that ecologically-functional populations of wolves increase ecosystem health and biological diversity. By modulating elk and deer numbers and moving them about, wolves produce an ecological ripple effect. Biologists call that movement “the ecology of fear.”

Since the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park, for example, biological diversity has soared just as streamsides have bounced back to heath from reduced grazing pressure from elk and deer. With returning willow populations, beaver populations have rebounded and then made dams and lodges that provide healthy aquatic habitats for a wide range of floral and faunal species.

Colorado’s ecosystems host the largest elk population in North America and one of the biggest deer populations. A 1994 study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service indicated that western Colorado’s large population of elk and deer and vast federal lands could support more than 1,000 wolves. The 2010 book, Awakening Spirits: Wolves in the Southern Rockies, backs that estimate. Dr. Rich Reading of the Denver Zoo will discuss the book at the Welcome Back Wolves rally.

WildEarth Guardians conducted an analysis of where viable wolf populations could be restored to Colorado and has petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other federal land and wildlife management agencies to promote a full wolf recovery plan in the Southern Rockies.

As Keefover-Ring put it, “Colorado needs wolves, and wolves need Colorado.”

Public opinion studies have found that 71 percent of Coloradans support wolf protection in the state, including 65 percent of citizens west of the Continental Divide. The return of wolves – by natural recolonization or reintroduction – could prove an economic boon for the state. Restoration of wolves to Yellowstone National Park brings in over $35 million each year in tourism revenue for local economies.

“Most Coloradoans, from both parties, from the east and west sides of the State want wolves back,” Harris said. “We celebrate wolves imminent return with this rally,” .

The evening will feature two ambassador wolves, speakers, prose, music, and audio visual presentations. The groups co-sponsoring the event include WildEarth Guardians, DU School of Law, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, Colorado Wild, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, and Center for Native Ecosystems. Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center will bring two wolves to the rally.

In the past few years, individual wolves have wandered into Colorado from the Northern Rockies. Two radio-collared wolves died here, one apparently hit by a car on I-70 in 2004, and one from unknown but suspicious causes in 2009. The Colorado Division of Wildlife filmed a black wolf in North Park in 2006.

Wolves in Colorado enjoy endangered species status under the Endangered Species Act.

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